Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Scraping Off the Barnacles of Social Media

By Dennis D. McDonald

“Scraping Barnacles” - An “Old Salts” figureI’m not a website designer. I do have opinions about what I like to see when I go to a web page. Maybe you do, too.

One experience that’s not unusual is going to a poorly designed web page and wondering what the heck is going on. The first impression is that confusion reigns. Perhaps there are too many colors, too many images, or just too many links. You can almost hear the crowded links crying out “pick me! pick me!” like Donkey in the  first Shrek film.

If you’re lucky, though, there’s a search box and you can actually find what you’re looking for. 

What comes to my mind in such situations is the need to “scrape the barnacles off” and make it easier to get at the underlying purpose and structure of the  web site. Interestingly, I see some of the best examples of improved front page design occurring with some Federal Government web pages as they take seriously the current Administration’s attempt to make government more accessible. They’re not perfect but things are improving.

But there’s another problem that I see emerging that may actually be more significant. I call it the “Barnacles of Social Media Syndrome.” I saw it most recently when I went to a Huffington Post page and wanted to leave a comment. Annoyingly, you have to be “registered” with the Huffington Post to leave comments. That’s bad enough. What I found this time, though, was that I was presented with a list of check-in options that included the usual suspects — Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc. Picking one I then had to go through a series of screens that walked me through a decision process where I was first made aware that if I used this option I was agreeing to provide information from the source account about my source account’s contacts (why?), and then I was asked to select which of my source account contacts who have also registered in this fashion with the Huffington Post I was also willing to share my information with (why?).

By this time I was becoming a bit confused. Huffington Post seemed to want me to do more than just acknowledge I had an accepted registration in place somewhere. They also wanted me to provide access to some unexplained level of detail about my contacts. Why?

Now, I’m no dummy when it comes to social media. It seemed that Huffington Post was asking me to do more than just provide a minimum level of authenticity in my log-in. They — or the services managing the accounts that are accepted for registering —  were also asking me to acknowledge a level of trust of some sort with them to govern a potential but unspecified exchange of information. Why? Are they just trying to establish a level of “sticky” engagement that might then increase my time on-site, the likelihood of a return visit, and in increased probability of advertising exposure?

Perhaps this type of registration is just an attempt to create another type of social community, one that overlaps the communities already maintained by the site visitor with the communities represented by the visited site. In theory that makes sense. In reality, it’s not clear what is actually being shared in such instances when people are in a hurry to read, comment, and move on.

If I’m coming in from Google, for example, which contact information will I be sharing? The automatically captured emails in Gmail that I’ve never really communicate with? Individuals my “family” circle on Google+? Do I even want to take time thinking about such things when I’m just trying to comment? If the process is different for each of the optional registration systems, do I need to know the ins and outs of each in order to make the “best decision” about which system to use?

This wondering about how my relationship and identity information was being used was one of the reasons I stopped using Facebook. I hate to see it spread through the rest of the real Internet. 

What am I missing here — and what do you think?

P.S. I didn’t leave a comment.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Dennis D. McDonald

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